CreditGregorio Borgia/Associated Press
Vatican diplomats have been deliberately prudent in avoiding the term, so in using it during the Mass on Sunday, before an audience that included the Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan, Francis clearly intended to provoke a response. He equated the fate of the Armenians with the genocides orchestrated by the Nazis and the Soviets under Stalin, while also condemning “other mass killings, like those in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi and Bosnia.”
“It seems that humanity is incapable of putting a halt to the shedding of innocent blood,” Francis said. “It seems that the human family has refused to learn from its mistakes caused by the law of terror, so that today, too, there are those who attempt to eliminate others with the help of a few, and with the complicit silence of others who simply stand by.”
Francis said it was a duty of everyone not to forget the “senseless slaughter” of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks from 1915 to 1923. “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it,” the pope added.
Turkey has long resisted the genocide designation, saying that a large number of Turks were also killed during and after the First World War, when Armenians sided with Russian and Western forces in hopes of claiming an independent homeland in eastern Turkey as the Ottoman Empire was dying.
Many Armenians have long demanded that Turkey acknowledge that about 1.5 million of their forebears were actually killed in a systematic genocide. More than 20 countries have passed parliamentary bills recognizing the killings as genocide, while nations like Greece and Switzerland have called for criminal charges against those who deny it.
On Sunday, Turkish officials in Ankara, the capital, summoned Archbishop Antonio Lucibello, the Vatican’s ambassador to Turkey, and notified him of their government’s “grave disappointment and sadness” over the pope’s remarks, which were “away from historical facts” and dismissive of the deaths of non-Christians in the country during the same historical period, according to a government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing diplomatic protocol.
On Twitter, the Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, dismissed Francis’ comments as baseless. “It is not possible to accept the pope’s statement, which is far from any legal or historical reality,” he wrote. “Religious authorities are not the places to incite resentment and hatred with baseless allegations.”
Later, the Foreign Ministry said that Ankara’s ambassador to the Vatican, Mehmet Pacaci, had been recalled for “deliberations.”